The Weekend Warrior: June 20 – 22

Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

The June face-offs continue with this week’s Battle of the Comedy Stars–one tried and true, the other still trying to prove himself–and like the past two weeks, it should be an interesting and heated battle as two studios compete for moviegoers’ hard-earned money, this time both targeting those looking for laughs.

Steve Carell is still trying to prove himself, having under-delivered with his last two movies, but reimaginging Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart in Peter Segal’s action-comedy Get Smart (Warner Bros.) should give him another chance after last year’s disappointing Evan Almighty (see below), especially with his strong supporting cast including Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin. It’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of Charlie’s Angels and The Dukes of Hazzard by relying on nostalgia to bring in older audiences, physical humor to bring in younger ones and lots of action for everyone in between. It should prove to be just the right formula to win the weekend as it brings in a good mix of audiences.

Mike Myers has a solid track record at the box office with three hit “Austin Powers” movies and a trilogy of “Shrek” blockbusters, though his new character in The Love Guru (Paramount) might come across as too stupid and racist even for his normal fanbase. Going up against a movie with less baggage like Get Smart might make it difficult for Myers to have another hit character-based franchise, although one can expect there’ll be plenty of barely pubescent teens to support Myers’ low-brow humor this weekend, though that audience will be divided up between the movies while younger kids and older adults will probably go for Carell, giving his movie a distinct advantage for the weekend. Myers’ return should end up somewhere between last week’s The Incredible Hulk and DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda with the former not taking as big a second weekend hit as M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie.

(UPDATE: Well, the two new movies are getting quite a few more theaters than we originally projected but we’re holding our ground on the predictions, even lowering The Love Guru a little since we have no confidence in Mike Myers being able to convince people to go see it. Should be a fairly uneventful weekend as things quiet down before the release of a number of highly-anticipated movies.)

This week’s “Chosen One” is Sarah Gavron’s adaptation of Monica Ali’s bestselling novel Brick Lane (Sony Classics), which you can read more about below.

This Week’s Predictions

1. Get Smart (Warner Bros.) – $36.8 million N/A (no change)

2. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel/Universal) – $26.0 million -53% (no change)

3. The Love Guru (Paramount) – $21.2 million N/A (down .4 million)

4. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks Animation) – $20.5 million -39% (no change)

5. The Happening (20th Century Fox) – $9.5 million -69% (no change)

6. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) – $8.4 million -43% (no change)

7. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Sony) – $8.0 million -51% (Down .1 million)

8. Sex and the City (New Line) – $5.0 million -49% (no change)

9. Iron Man (Marvel/Paramount) – $3.8 million -29% (down .2 million)

10. The Strangers (Rogue Pictures/Universal) – $1.9 million -50% (down .1 million)

Last year this weekend, Steve Carell headlined another anticipated comedy, being the sequel (of sorts) Evan Almighty (Universal), replacing Jim Carrey from the original movie Bruce Almighty, but it only made $31 million its opening weekend, which was seen as a huge disappointment compared to the original blockbuster and the cost to make its sequel sans original star. Last year, Carell faced John Cusack in the Stephen King thriller 1408 (Dimension Films), which opened higher than expected with an impressive $20.6 million opening in nearly a thousand fewer theaters (similar to The Love Guru). Also, Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart (Paramount Vantage) starring Angelina Jolie opened in 1,355 theaters, just squeaking into the Top 10 with less than $4 million its opening weekend. The Top 10 grossed $121 million, which should once again be beaten by this weekend’s options.

Get Smart (Warner Bros.)

Starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Terry Crews, David Koechner, James Caan, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, Kenneth Davitian

Directed by Peter Segal (The Longest Yard, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, The Naked Gun 33 1/3); Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (Failure to Launch)

Genre: Action, Comedy

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “Saving the World… and Loving It!”

Plot Summary: After eight times trying, the spy agency CONTROL’s top analyst Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell) has finally passed his field agent test and the newly dubbed “Agent 86” is teamed with the beautiful Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) to stop enemy agency KAOS’ attempt to blow up the president (James Caan).

Mini-Review: Whether or not you laughed hysterically at the antics of Don Adams in the role of Maxwell Smart on the long-running television show or are coming into this action-comedy reinvention fresh, you’re sure to find something entertaining about it, if only in the impressive way Adam Sandler collaborator Peter Segal has filled the movie with so many jokes and so much action that it rarely lets up once it starts. Not all of the gags work—some are silly, others are stupid and others will make you feel guilty for laughing—but fans of the show shouldn’t be disappointed by how references from the show are brought into the mix, including all the silly gadgets, classic Maxwell Smart lines and even a couple surprises. Carell proves that he can do Don Adams even better than he did Paul Lynde in the abhorrent Bewitched movie, but this isn’t a straight impression just as the movie isn’t entirely an “origin” or prequel to the show. There’s plenty of moments for Carell to do his own thing without making you think you’re watching characters he’s done before. Things really explode when Anne Hathaway shows up as a very sexy Agent 99, getting a lot more into the action than Barbara Feldon ever did. The two of them have a uniquely fascinating chemistry as the squabbling partners, and the way they play off each other’s strengths and bring out the best in each other work as well as the Adams and Feldon’s relationship without trying to mimic it. Dwayne Johnson brings completely different dynamic to the movie as Agent 23, CONTROL’s top agent who has been demoted to desk jockey, but he’s not nearly as funny as Carell and Hathaway, and the stuff at CONTROL headquarters with David Koechner and Terry Crews as fellow agents and Masi Oka and Nate Torrence as the geeky tech crew generally don’t deliver nearly as many laughs. Likewise, Alan Arkin doesn’t seem to be putting too much effort into putting a new spin on “The Chief,” basically doing his usual thing rather than trying to recreate the dynamics Ed Platt brought to the role. (He does have a couple great moments, including a few obscenity-laced lines that makes this movie less safe to take the kiddies to see.) The movie gets even funnier when James Caan shows up as a very familiar-looking president and we get into the crux of the story of a KAOS plot to blow him up, and Terrence Stamp is suitably menacing as KAOS leader Siegfried, who creates a surprising amount of job dissatisfaction amongst his henchmen. The thing is that Segal never sticks to one type of humor long enough for you to get sick of a joke. Whether or not you believe the movie could be as funny as the television show is somewhat irrelevant, because I challenge anyone to stifle the snickers and not laugh a lot during this hilarious action-packed take on the ’60s show. Rating: 7.5/10

Turning popular television show into big budget movies for modern-day stars is nothing new but it should be no surprise how many of these pop up thanks to the popularity of long-running syndicated shows that warranted entire cable channels to be dedicated to them like Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Night” and “TV Land.” It’s a strange phenomenon because many times, the movie’s intended audience weren’t even alive when the show originally aired, so it creates a strange amalgam of trying to appeal to the original fans and doing something that can attract modern mainstream movie audiences. For everyone movie that’s successful at this, there are at least two that bomb badly.

The spy show “Get Smart” was somewhat groundbreaking for its time when introduced in 1965, if only because the show was created by Mel Brooks before he started making classic comedy films like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, and it teamed him with Buck Henry, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for The Graduate and still a decade away from being a regular host on the fledgling “Saturday Night Live.” The show introduced the world to Don Adams as Maxwell Smart aka Agent 86, a bumbling spy character who was constantly fighting against the forces of KAOS along with his sexy (and significantly smarter) partner Agent 99, played by Agent 99. It was a popular show back during the late ’60s, running for five years and 138 episodes and believe it or not, it actually won a lot of Emmys to boot! The show was even more remarkable for the length of time that those shows would be aired in syndication, along with other classics of the time like “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island.” In 1980, Maxwell Smart was brought back for his first movie, The Nude Bomb, which did in fact bomb, making just $14 million, but nine years later, the cast was reunited for one final TV movie. (We’ll try to forget the attempted show revival in 1996; Andy Dick probably has.) Over those 30 years, the show had a surprising influence on other comedy filmmakers like the Zucker Brothers, who created similar tongue-in-cheek humor for their show “Police Squad!” which spawned their own far more successful “Naked Gun” movies. In a strange bit of irony, the last one, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, was helmed by one Peter Segal, who as luck would have it, is directing this new version of Get Smart following his successful work with Adam Sandler on three of his most recent hits The Longest Yard, Anger Management and 50 First Dates.

This reinvention of the spy comedy has become a vehicle for Steve Carell, whose popularity has grown with the continued success of his hit NBC sitcom “The Office” over the years, making him very much a recognizable household name. A few years back, Carell was appearing in smaller roles in some of Will Ferrell’s comedies including “Anchorman” and Bewitched (another television show turned into a movie!) before breaking out with his starring role in Judd Apatow’s debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin. After that film grossed over $100 million, it was thought that Carell could headline his own movies, but first, he appeared as part of the ensemble in the Oscar-nominated indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine (and was robbed for an Oscar nomination if you ask me!). Last year, Carell starred in Evan Almighty, the big budget sequel to the Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty, which delivered less than half the original’s box office, and Carell’s romantic comedy Dan in Real Life failed to deliver opening weekend but was a fall sleeper hit. Many people feel that Carell is the only possible actor who could have stepped into Don Adams’ phone shoe to play Maxwell Smart, because he has a similar bumbling nature from his role as Michael Scott on “The Office” that works well in this environment, which should allow the film an easier in with audiences over thirty i.e. the ones who will remember the original show.

He doesn’t have to carry this action-comedy alone though, because he’s been paired with a sexy new Agent 99 in 20-something superstar Anne Hathaway whose early family comedy The Princess Diaries was a huge hit for Disney back in 2000, as was its sequel. Two years ago, Hathaway reinvented herself for the long-awaited movie version of The Devil Wears Prada with Meryl Streep, which brought in a huge audience of girls and women who had no interest in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns and her continued popularity among the estrogen set could potentially bring in some younger women to this movie who may not have as much interest in Mike Myers’ latest. (See below). While Hathaway has done a lot of comedy, this is her first attempt at a true action movie, and she seems to have leapt into that role quite effortlessly.

Former professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson (once known as “The Rock”) has lots of experience in both action and comedy which makes him perfect to play Agent 23, CONTROL’s top agent and Max’s main competition, and he’s been in enough hits in both genres to make him a draw for younger guys. There’s a lot of other recognizable faces working for CONTROL, including Academy Award winning actor Alan Arkin (he stole Carell’s nomination for Little Miss Sunshine) playing The Chief, Masi Oka from “Heroes” playing one of the agency’s nerdy techs, and the ever-present David Koechner and Terry Crews, both whom appear in many comedies nowadays.

Looking at some of the past attempts to bring television shows to the big screen, Get Smart probably comes closest to Charlie’s Angels, a surprise hit for Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu in 2000, grossing $125 million, followed by a far more expensive and ultimately disappointing sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle a few years later. Even so, the $37 to 40 million opening of those two movies is a solid benchmark for Get Smart, which is selling itself as much as an action movie as a comedy. Other television remakes from Warner Bros. include the comedic take on Starsky & Hutch starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and The Dukes of Hazzard with Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott and Jessica Simpson, both which opened between $28 and 30 million but ended up short of the $100 million mark, showing that many people rushed out to see them but neither movie generated enough word-of-mouth to stick around. Other notable TV adaptations include Wild Wild West, thought by many to be Will Smith’s biggest bomb having grossed only $113 million; The Addams Family, which fared about the same before spawning a sequel which actually did bomb; the 1987 reinvention of Dragnet starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd (another potential benchmark) and The Brady Bunch which fared better than it should have and also had a sequel. Because we don’t want to cause any flashback-induced nervous breakdowns, we hesitate to mention movies based on ’60s cult faves The Avengers and Lost in Space.

Spoofing spy movies has become somewhat of a comedy sub-genre over the years with some of the most notable spy spoofs being Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers,” which may have been somewhat influenced by the original “Get Smart” show, and Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English, as well as the Zucker Brothers’ own take on the genre with the cult classic Spy Hard. Obviously, few movies have done nearly as well as the “Austin Powers” movies, the latter installation having grossed $213 million, but there’s also the Eddie Murphy-Owen Wilson attempt at doing a comedy version of I Spy, which is probably best forgotten for anyone with high hopes for Get Smart.

Of course, the movie will try its best to appeal to fans of the original show, who would be in their 40s and 50s by now–the presence of Carell and Arkin should help there–but who knows how many moviegoers under 30 (the movie’s intended audience) have ever heard of the original show, because it’s not like it’s been all over the airwaves in recent years, having not created a diehard fanbase who have continued to follow it over the years. To younger audiences, this will just be a movie with lots of action and laughs, starring people they know from television and other movies. Some parents might even bring their kids, since there’s a lot of physical action they might be able to appreciate, but then be mortified by some of the language used in the movie.

The good news for Get Smart is that it’s opening in a weekend following two male-centric genre movies that have received mixed reactions, which means both of them will drop this weekend to make way for the new comedies. Unfortunately, Get Smart isn’t the only choice as most people will know by now and the popularity of Mike Myers at the box office has been proven countless times in the past.

Undaunted by the competition, Warner Bros. has given the movie an ultra-wide release and a really big marketing push, mainly running commercials along with “The Office” in all its forms—first-run, syndication and online—which insures that Carell’s fanbase will know he’s in the movie, but they’ve created a series of strong fast-paced commercials that emphasize the fun and action, as opposed to The Love Guru commercials which mainly elicit groans. This is an important movie to Warner Bros. who are still smarting after the bomb that was Speed Racer (also based on an old TV show) and it would be a good recovery for them to win the weekend. Get Smart should be funny and entertaining enough to bring in word-of-mouth audience over the next few weeks, even with strong fare like PIxar’s WALL•E and Will Smith’s Hancock nipping at its heels.

Why I Should See It: Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway have impressive chemistry as the new Agent 86 and Agent 99, enough so that their fans will appreciate this more than some of their other recent movies.

Why Not: People might already be getting sick of movies that reinvent television shows that few people have asked to be revived.

Projections: $35 to 38 million opening weekend and $110 to 120 million total.


The Love Guru (Paramount)

Starring Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Ben Kingsley, Meagan Good, John Oliver, Verne Troyer, Romany Malco, Jim Gaffigan

Directed by Marco Schnabel (2nd Unit on Meet the Fockers, Meet the Parents and Austin Powers in Goldmember); Written by Mike Myers (Wayne’s World and the “Austin Powers” movies), Graham Gordy (War Eagle, Arkansas)

Genre: Comedy

Rated PG-13

Tagline: “His Karma is Huge”

Plot Summary: After being raised by gurus in India, the Guru Pitka (Mike Myers) returns to the United States to set up a self-help business. For his first gig, he’s hired by the owner of a hockey team (Jessica Alba) to help their star player Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco), whose playing has gone downhill after getting into a rift with his estranged wife, who is now dating Darren’s main competitor, hockey player Jacques Grande (Justin Timberlake).

Mini-Review: Mike Myers is back with a new character so obnoxious and annoying that you’ll be praying for the return of Austin Powers, who comes off as intelligent and clever by comparison. It’s such a painful experience to endure the Guru Pitka’s antics, as Myers creates a flimsy one-note gagster who spouts incessant sub-low-brow and un-PC bathroom humor and penis jokes, often being the first (and only one) to laugh at his own jokes. Much of the humor caters to pre-pubescent 12-year-old boys with in-your-face physical gags that come across as dumb and obvious to anyone with an IQ over 10. Other jokes are generally offensive to everyone from Canadians to homosexuals, as Myers jampacks the movie with so many site gags and double entendres to make up for the movie’s negligible plot involving the Guru Pitka’s challenge of helping the Toronto Maple Leafs with their star player’s marital problems. At a certain point, you may think that this movie is part of some subversive Canadian plot to add to the dumbing down of the America, because there’s no other explanation for it. As far as Myers’ co-stars, Jessica Alba is completely out of her league, unable to get any sort of grasp on playing off Myers’ inane character, but her lifeless performance is superseded by a (hopefully) career-ending performance by Justin Timberlake as a ridiculous French-Canadian goalie named Jacques “Le Coq” Grande–yes, it’s basically a gag about his big penis. Beavis and Butthead would approve. The only even remotely positive thing one can say about the movie is that it gives Romany Malco his biggest role since “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and the (koff, koff) honor of being in the best and worst comedies of the 21st Century. It also insures that “Postal” isn’t Verne Troyer’s worst movie of the year, as Myers’ sidekick plays the owner of the Maple Leafs, there mainly to curse and swear, be kicked around, beaten up and a constant target for Guru Pitka’s moronic short jokes. We’ve seen Sir Ben Kingsley embarrass himself with awful characters with bad accents before, but he hits a new low here, as does the movie during a segment that introduces something called “Stinkmop.” After that, there would seemingly be nowhere to go but up, except that it continually finds new trenches to dig itself into as it constantly goes too far and Myers repeatedly embarrasses himself with how low he’ll go for laughs, despite only a few gags being worthy of more than a snicker. The movie’s biggest offense is the dumbing down of “Daily Show” correspondents John Oliver and Stephen Colbert, the latter playing a hockey announcer who basically rips off Jason Bateman’s schtick from “Dodgeball.” This movie is offensive, revolting and jawdropingly awful from beginning to end, a complete and total piece of Singularly Horrid Infantile Trash (TM). Rating: 1/10

As hard as it is to believe, it’s been almost five years since we’ve seen Mike Myers on the big screen when he wasn’t voicing a hugely-popular green ogre for DreamWorks Animation. After a long time without having his face in movie theaters, the former “SNL” star decided it’s time to get back on the horse and create a new character who hopefully will prove as popular among his fans as Austin Powers. I’ll be the first to admit that I never really understood the appeal of Mike Myers, not when he was on “Saturday Night Live” and not when he started taking characters like Wayne from “Wayne’s World” to the big screen, followed by the success of “Austin Powers” and then “Shrek.” I just don’t find him to be very funny and don’t understand the appeal, much like some people can’t understand why I like Jim Carrey so much. (I have a theory that the two comedians split up audiences with “Mike Myers fans” rarely seeing eye to eye with “Jim Carrey fans” when it comes to what is funny.)

Myers’ new character is one he tested out in secret on the stand-up comedy circuits, one that pays homage to his own personal guru Deepak Chokra, and we’ll know this weekend whether it stacks up with some of the characters that Myers created during his long run on “Saturday Night Live” including public access talk show host Wayne who went onto star in two “Wayne’s World” movies. The $121 million made by the first “Wayne’s World” would not foreshadow the incredible success Myers would find with his next character Austin Powers, a character who generated two $200 million blockbuster sequels, which led directly into Myers voicing DreamWorks’ ogre Shrek, star of three movies that grossed a billion dollars in the U.S. alone. Yeah, that’s we call star power. (UPDATE: Surprised that no one caught me on the fact that I totally spaced on Myers’ turn as Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat less than five years ago, which was his last live action movie.)

Myers tends to be able to get hot female co-stars as was the case with Heather Graham and Beyonce, and this time, he’s all over actress Jessica Alba, whose box office potential is still under heavy debate. Her only true comedy was with Dane Cook in Good Luck Chuck last fall, which fared decently with $35 million and earlier this year, the horror remake The Eye fared just slightly poorer with Alba headlining. She’s had a lot of bombs along the way including last year’s long-delayed Awake and the similar delayed Into the Blue, but she’s done better in comic book based movies like Sin City and the two “Fantastic Four” films, neither which could be fully credited to Alba’s shape-hugging costumes in either. The Love Guru is in a similar situation as Good Luck Chuck although rather than being a high concept R-rated grossout movie, it’s one based around a character and one that may or may not go over well with Myers’ fans.

If this weren’t already looking like a disaster in the making, pop singer Justin Timberlake makes a jump to live comedy after acting in a bunch of dramatic films like Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan ($9.3 million gross), Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog ($15 million gross), and Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, the latter two both being delayed for a lengthy period. Timberlake’s debut Edison never even made it to theaters, but to his credit, Timberlake also voiced a major role in last year’s Shrek the Third, although he probably didn’t work directly with Myers based on the nature of how these animated movies are made.

The Love Guru does reunite Myers with “Mini-Me” Verne Troyer, Myers’ co-star in the “Austin Powers” movies, who most recently appeared as himself in Uwe Boll’s Postal (poor little guy) and hasn’t done much else since then besides reality TV, notably VH-1’s “The Surreal Life.” Another key role is filled by Romany Malco, whose breakout film was Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but whose since appeared in comedies like Will Ferrell’s Blades of Glory.

Basically, the movie looks like a string of really dumb Mike Myers jokes, lots of double entendres, low-brow potty and physical humor, and it’s really only going to appeal to a certain audience, mostly Myers’ fans. That said, it seems like the Canadian comedian was in his heyday roughly eight to ten years ago when he was all over MTV, and though Myers recently hosted the MTV Movie Awards in hopes of regaining some of his young audience, most of his younger fans have hopefully grown up and grown out of that phase. Other moviegoers should be smart enough to see this character more as a racist stereotype than something laugh-worthy. Myers certainly can afford to have a bomb at this point with so much success under his belt, and one has to wonder if this might be his Little Nicky or The Adventures of Pluto Nash, movies that tanked despite the presence of major comic stars, both whom recovered after those disasters. The movie looks as dumb as Murphy’s Norbit which was a major hit for DreamWorks last year, so one can’t completely discount that Myers can have similar success.

The problem is that there’s another strong comedy opening this weekend, one that actually looks funny, and while one might not expect Mike Myers and Steve Carell to have much of the same fanbase, it does force those looking for laughs this weekend to make a choice. This is very much like two weeks ago with Kung Fu Panda vs. Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (both still playing strongly) and last week’s The Incredible Hulk vs. The Happening, creating another battle that forces moviegoers to make a choice. While The Love Guru‘s main competition Get Smart is more of an action movie than a straight comedy, it probably will seem like the lesser of two evils for people looking for laughs.

Chances are that critics won’t be very kind to either of these movies, but The Love Guru looks so dumb that they’re likely to be ruthless, knowing they finally have a solid reason to take Mike Myers down a peg. Yeah, the reviews are going to be personal, and yet, even if the movie is a total crapfest (I’m not seeing it until after this week’s column goes live), there’s a good chance that Myers’ fans will go see it.

As much as there is a good chance of this movie bombing really badly, one can’t forget that there’s million of teens who’ll go see stupid movies like Meet the Spartans or the Wayans Brothers’ movies, so one probably should ready themselves for the sad fact that even this ridiculous concept might bring in at least $20 million this weekend, though possibly not much more than that and one shouldn’t expect much in the way of legs if it proves to be as dumb as it looks. Mike Myers fans might welcome him back with open arms, though there may not be enough of them for a huge opening weekend, especially since the movie will have very little interest for anyone beyond that.

Why I Should See It: If you’re a fan of Mike Myers… then I feel really sorry for you first of all… but you’ll probably want to see him returning to the screen.

Why Not: This looks like it could be Mike Myers’ dumbest movie ever and seriously, how a movie could get dumber than his other movies is unfathomable.

Projections: $21 to 23 million opening weekend and $50 to 55 million total.



Brick Lane (Sony Pictures Classics)

Starring Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson, Zafreen

Directed by Sarah Gavron (Debut feature); Written by Laura Jones (Possession, Angela’s Ashes), Abi Morgan (Tsunami: The Aftermath, Sex Traffic)

Genre: Drama

Rated PG-13

Plot Summary: At the age of seventeen, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is forced into an arranged marriage with the significantly older Chanu (Satish Kaushik) and she moves to London’s East End and its fabled immigrant center Brick Lane. Sixteen years later, it’s 2001 and Nazneen is still married with two teenager daughters, and she starts realizing that there’s more out there for her, especially when she meets and falls for the hot-headed younger man Karim. After the World Trade Center attacks, life forever changes for all of them.

Interview with Tannishtha Chatterjee and Sarah Gavron

This poignant drama based on Monica Ali’s novel about a young Bangladeshi woman in London was received really well at last year’s Toronto Film Festival as well as in director Sarah Gavron’s homeland of England when released last fall. While it’s probably not the type of book I might ever read, there’s something really powerful about the way it tackles its subject from the perspective of a young Muslim woman trying to find herself in a world where she’s constantly being repressed for her gender. While there have been similar immigrant films in recent years including The Namesake and The Kite Runner, this has more in common with Deepa Mehta’s excellent Water in the way it takes a singularly unique look at how young Muslim women are forced into arranged marriages and brought to a new world, often too afraid even to go outside, and how one woman tries to break free from those chains. The story of Nazneen, a breakthrough role for up ‘n’ coming Bollywood actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, is fascinating, as we see how her life has changed since being brought to London, as the film flashes back to her childhood, playing with her younger sister. As Nazneen read her sister’s letters about how wonderful her life is back in Bangladesh, she feels more out of place and desirable to go home, not realizing that everything isn’t what it seems. Instead, she tries to find her independence by having an affair with a younger Muslim man behind the back of her proud, arrogant husband. The latter is played by Satish Kaushik, an amazingly rich performance as he starts as the film’s would-be antagonist, but he adds so much humor and poignance to the story that you may start to feel somewhat bad for him about his wife’s dalliances, even though he tends to act like a jackass sometimes. There are aspects of the film that may seem obvious or predictable, but also a number of surprising twists, including how things change for everyone in the area after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Regardless, the film is beautifully realized by Sarah Gavron, a British director who has mainly done TV movies and docs up until now, as she fills Nazneen’s story with gorgeous visuals and traditional music, creating a film that’s dramatic, romantic and even erotic at times. This probably means that like the book, the film will appeal more to women, but it’s still such a powerful story that it’s hard not to be moved by Nazneen’s story and its relevance in today’s world.

Brick Lane will open in select cities on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Picturehouse) – Abigail Breslin stars in this big screen version of the popular character in the series of “American Girl” novels by Valerie Tripp that’s spawned an equally successful line of dolls. Breslin plays Margaret Mildred “Kit” Kittredge a brash and wise beyond her years 10-year-old reporter wannabe living in 1934 Cincinnati, whose family takes on eccentric boarders when faced with the Great Depression. At the same time, Kittredge is trying to solve a series of crimes perpetrated by hobos in hopes of saving her hobo friend Will (Max Thieriot). Following a series of successful television movies based on the books and dolls, this will open for an exclusive engagement in select cities (New York, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas) before opening nationwide on Wednesday, July 2.

Mini-Review: Granted, this review may hold very little water among the 8 to 10-year-old girls already in love with Kit Kittredge and her American Girl friends, nor is this movie even remotely intended for a crotchety middle-age male audience. Even so, there’s very little truly groundbreaking or surprising with this serviceable period piece based on the popular novels and dolls and how it’s handled far from subtly by director Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park). Fortunately, the writing is generally decent and the expansive cast of characters is filled by a strong and impressive line-up of underrated character actors. Sadly, the entire movie tends to be dumbed down for its pre-tweener audience with lots of obvious humor, always trying to be too cute for its own good, the best parts being the amusing interaction between the quirky boarders at the Kittredge house including Joan Cusack as a ditzy librarian, Stanley Tucci as a magician and Jane Krasinski as a hot-to-trot dance instructor. Breslin isn’t nearly as annoying as she has been in other recent movies, although she rarely acts like a typical kid, particularly one from that era, her dominant persona making it clear that the other young actors playing her friends are well out of their league. In fact, Breslin’s best scenes are probably when she stands up to the always excellent Wallace Shawn as the editor of the local newspaper, although funny scenes like those are constantly getting bogged down by the sentimentality and melodrama that’s expected with a movie set during the Depression. Chris O’Donnell is particularly good in these scenes as Kit’s young-looking father, as is Julia Ormond as her mother, but it tends to create a film with an erratic tone. It goes well with its flimsy plot about a hobo-driven crime wave that leads to a predictable and overly-complicated ending as the various storylines come together in a way that isn’t particularly clever and silly enough to create embarrassing moments for some of the older cast. Even though younger girls will probably love Kit’s antics and their parents won’t find it to be too painful an experience, “Kit Kittredge” is still only a serviceable and fairly mediocre family film at best, which has little reason why to be shown theatrically rather than on television like previous “American Girl” movies. Rating: 6/10

Expired (MRC Releasing) – Samantha Morton and Jason Patric star in Cecilia Miniucchi’s romantic comedy about meter readers who put up with a lot of anger and abuse from their jobs, and two of them who end up in a relationship when their tough job brings them together. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review (Coming Soon!)

Next week, the month of June comes to an end (Really? The summer is half over ALREADY?) with WALL•E, the latest from Disney’s Pixar Animation, while James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie shoot everything in sight in the action flick Wanted (Universal), based on the Mark Millar/JG Jones graphic novel.

Copyright 2008 Edward Douglas


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